Decidedly urban couple who quit their jobs and successfully backpacked their way through Asia for a year. They met Buddha, drank baijiu and learned to master the squat toilet. Now appearing in a new life as ex-pats in Singapore.

Thailand
The Urban Hikers play Ping Pong in Bangkok

The Urban Hikers play Ping Pong in Bangkok

Warning: This post is sexually explicit, morally questionable and potentially offensive. If you are my parents or my parent’s friends, please don’t read this. Thanks -K

Welcome to Bangkok!

When I was a child I thought that ‘Bangkok’ was a dirty word.  At the time I didn’t know that the real name for the city Bangkok is:

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

In English this translates to:

The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam

None of this matters at all because what you really want to know is:  While in Bangkok were you involved in the degrading, demoralizing, dehumanizing, misogynist, anti-femenist sexploitation of women?

Did you see a Ping-pong show?

To which I will say, yes. And it was a sight to behold.

A trip to Bangkok is not complete without a visit to the ne plus ultra of tourist ghettos, Khao San Road. The famed street of hostels and whores where you can not walk for 5 meters without hearing a man smacking his lips together, ostensibly the sound that ping pong ball makes when exiting a vagina. Who can resist wheezy little men who sidle up to you with an overpriced drink list and a promise of sexual depravity?

Not us, apparently.

Cheap! Cheap! Sexy Lady! Cheap!

We soon found ourselves exiting a tuk-tuk and walking down the tiny, raucous Patpong alley where you could pursue the market for a handbag, purchase some fashionable Ray Bans or pop into one of the dozens of strip clubs that line the street.

I chose to look at the handbags. That’s right.  We went all the way to Patpong, walked along the street and turned right around and went home. I just couldn’t manage to walk into a club full of bored bikini-clad women, and watch them place foreign objects into their hoo-ha.

Round one winner: Moral Compass.

Patpong, Bangkok taken by bridgeandtunnelclub.com

Round two went a little differently. Notably, I was drunk so it was much easier to walk into a dark club, order a 200 baht beer and watch a 75 year old woman shoot a pellet gun with her kegel muscles.

The club was full of incredibly bored young women who stood on stage gazing soullessly at the crowd. Together we all watched as an old, skinny topless woman hopped on the stage and without  any fanfare whatsoever whipped down her panties.  She didn’t shimmy or shake or dance, she simply stepped on stage, grabbed both sides of her red underwear and pulled them down.

Grandma had the hooha of a teenager.

She enthusiastically placed a hollow stick inside herself, took aim at the floating balloons and with her legs spread wide, shot a bullet and burst the balloon. I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. Is it even possible to shoot a pellet out of your va-ja-ja? We watched a young guy from the audience joined her on stage, placed a balloon in his mouth and closed his eyes. POP! Yes it is possible and the woman had perfect aim.

I learned that there are a lot of things that you can do with your vagina, like open coke bottles!

I watched a man pull eight feet of multi-colored neon ribbon from a woman’s vagina. He pulled and pulled and pulled until yards of ribbon stretched across the room and gathered at his feet. I saw a woman use a straw to suck up tiny rings and gently stack them in a row. But the highlight of the night and the real reason d’etre was the ping pong show.

It’s exactly like what you imagine, except you’re HOLDING THE PING PONG PADDLE.

This I did not expect.  I didn’t realize that this was a two-player game. It wasn’t until a bright orange ball was bouncing towards my chair that I realized that I could either hit the ball back or have it touch me.

Please god, don’t let the ping pong ball touch me.

Although by this point in the night I could barely focus (having indulged in several courage boosting belgian beers) and my hand-eye coordination was severely impaired, I managed to hit almost all of the ping pong balls. Mostly because they don’t move that quickly.  The balls sort of bounced towards me rather than fly.  I assume that’s because it’s really fucking difficult to shoot a fucking ball out of your hooha.

And now we’re seen it all and there is only one thing left to do.

Tonight we leave for India where we will drive a rickshaw from Goa to Mumbai. That’s right!  It’s time for the nine-day ass numbing, death defying Rickshaw Challenge.

 

 

 


 

Human zoos and elephants

Human zoos and elephants

Four days on the Mae Hong Son loop can give you a serious case of raw-ass, but with scenery as gorgeous as what you find in Northern Thailand, raw-ass is a small price to pay.

Gorgeous views!

There are a number of strange and unusual sights to behold while scooting the loop, from elephant variety roadblocks to entire villages of longneck Karen woman. I expected to see amazing views but I did not expect  to find an entire animal kingdom on the road back to Chiang Mai.

The mahout’s (elephant drivers) couldn’t seem to understand my excitement at finding a parade of elephants in the middle of the road.  I threw my scooter to the ground and charged towards the giant beasts. “TAKE MY PICTURE!” I shouted at the guys who were walking alongside the group.

I also tried to befriend the baby elephant hiding between her mother’s legs but the entire group refused to stop walking. I guess they must encounter many overly excited white people during their afternoon strolls.

Roadside elephantal encounter

OMG! OMG! OMG! Elephants!

I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for taking a pictures of the Long Neck Karen.  The tribe is utterly fascinating. The women of this Burmese refugee tribe elongate their necks with metal necklaces, eventually crushing their collarbone and weakening their neck muscles to the point that they are unable to remove the jewelry for fear of asphyxiation. (According to some sources the women would be unable to hold up their head.) This practice is illegal in Myanmar.

Instead of living normal village life, these women are kept sequestered in a small section of houses where people (including me) pay to visit. The women sell handicrafts while dozens and dozens of tourists gawk, buy scarves and take photos. It’s a human zoo.

Long Neck Village sign

Long Neck Karen and Big Ear Karen

In between facing down elephants and losing a battle with my moral compass, I attempted to avoid the rain. I was not successful.

Seriously unsafe driving conditions

Soaking wet and in the middle of nowhere

 

Solo scooting the Mae Hong Son loop

Solo scooting the Mae Hong Son loop

It’s pretty hard to tear yourself away from Chiang Mai, it’s almost the perfect place to vacation. There are fabulous ancient temples ready to explore, decent MEXICAN food and dozens of spas that charge US$3  for an hour-long painfully relaxing Thai massage.

A common sight in Chiang Mai – Buddhist Chedi

But I am not on vacation, I am backpacking! I don’t need nice hotels, delicious burritos and relaxation! Instead of enjoying the soft life, I set out on a four-day adventure through the back roads of Northern Thailand. The Mae Hong Son Loop is a famous, tremendously steep and winding road that runs through national parks, hill tribe villages and into the heart of hippie-dom in Thailand. The 600 km stretch of highway is known as road of 1,000 turns and it sounded like just the thing for another scoot adventure!

And before the monsoon rains kicked in on day 2, I had a great time.

Mae Klang Waterfall, Doi Inthanon

Mae Klang Waterfall, Doi Inthanon

The first thing to get used to was driving on the “other” (ahem, the wrong) side of the road. I can barely cross the street with traffic whizzing by from the left, so learning to make a lane-crossing left hand turn was particularly nerve racking.

After nervously fighting my way out a surprisingly congested Chiang Mai, scooting through Doi Inthanon was dream. The national park is full of small Karen villages, stunning waterfalls and towering mountain cliffs. But the park map is bull shit.

After scooting for several hours, my first inkling that perhaps I was headed in the wrong direction struck when I noticed a severe change in both temperatue and altitude. The clouds has set in, it was freezing cold and I could see Burma in the distance. Instead of heading through Doi Inthanon park, I was heading straight up the Doi Inthanon peak.

Mae Hong Son loop, scoot

Steep and cloudy with a 100% chance of rain

Little known fact: Scooters don’t go uphill. They certainly can’t make a 2,500m climb. Second little known fact: it’s very hard to turn a scooter around on a steep hill.

I learned both of these little known facts as my scooter stalled 100 meters away from the top of Thailand’s tallest peak. As I attempted a dicey turn on a 90 degree incline sans gas, both the scooter and I fell to the ground, skidding down the hill. Luckily scooters don’t need much gas to go straight down hill and the park is peppered with hill tribe villages.

It’s an odd day when dropping in on the local Karen village to buy a glass bottle of petrol feels normal. Welcome to Asia.

mae hong son, doi inathnon loop

Just walk up and ask for gas!

Fill ‘er up!

I had a tankful of gas but I was nowhere near Mae Sariang, the next town.

The twisting roads were beginning to lose their appeal, they sky was ready to let loose and I started to get nervous about finding a place to stay. Although 70 kilometers doesn’t sound like a lot, it is, particularly on a scooter. And that’s how far I had to go.

Suddenly there it was! The Navasorn Resort!

Gross lodging along the way, part of the fun?

The manicured hotel in the woods certainly looked fancy and I had exactly US$25 (a fortune in Thailand but certainly not enough for gas, a meal and fancy digs). I didn’t have much of a choice when I scooted up and boldly asked for their cheapest room. After 8 months in Asia I was ready to bargain but I didn’t have to try. Instead the woman in charge led me past their fancy guest bungalows and showed me into a filthy windowless back room complete with an outdoor insect-infested squat toilet. For my added enjoyment, there were free used porn mags. The room cost 10 bucks – well within my budget though pretty far outside my comfort zone.**

I slept in my clothes without touching the blanket and woke up at 8am the next morning ready to hit the road. I still had three more days of scooting ahead of me and the rain was about to begin.

The perfect place for sexy time

** This is before I found out that porn mags in cheap hotels are par for the course.

There is no ketchup in Pad Thai!

There is no ketchup in Pad Thai!

It’s not unusual to sit down in a new country, take the first bite of food and discover that it tastes completely different than we expected.

Unexpectedly massive and delicious Dosa!

It’s shocking to taste just how badly we Westerners have butchered a recipe and created a less tasty, more fattening version or the original.  Here are some of our more egregious errors:

* There is no duck sauce in China. In fact there is very little orange colored food in Asia – including sweet and sour anything. General Tso must have served in US military because he’s an American creation. We can all cry fat tears into our third chin because Chinese food as we know it was created for us by Mao Zedong in a long tail effort to eliminate the US  imperialist enemy.

* There is more than BBQ meat in Korea. The cuisine also includes soup, rice, and even the occasional Chinese cabbage. Surprisingly there is one key ingredient that we don’t use in the US. Korean food includes a not un-substantial amount of added flavor from blood. Ox blood, duck blood, blood-blood.  In America we generally don’t use blood as a topping.

* And now I have discovered that Pad Thai is not made with ketchup and peanut butter. Somehow I always knew that 1,068 people that reviewed Osha Thai Noodle were as dumb as they look when they dine on a plate of neon orange, sugary sweet $15 pad thai and sip their overpriced ‘Hott Pink’ soju martini. PS Assholes: Soju is Korean, go drink it and dine on ox blood soup.

This is how you drink Soju in the ROK.

ANYWAY.

Way back in the glory days of 2006 when I started to enjoy cooking, I decided that I would master the art of Thai food. I failed miserably, notably because I used half a jar of crunchy peanut butter and ended up with peanut noodle soup. But now thanks to the help of the best cooking school in Chiang Mai, I have  learned the secret to Pad Thai!

A Lot of Thai's van

Yui and her husband picked me up in her VW van and we spent an entire day cooking my favorite Thai food. We shopped, chopped, and stir fried until the rain came pouring into our outdoor kitchen. Yui and her family are awesome! Her daughter threw a tantrum in her tutu and her son ate my spring rolls. It actually felt like I was cooking in a real kitchen for a real family.

But beyond the family atmosphere, Yui is also one fantastic teacher. Generally speaking, I am not a consummate stir fry queen, (I’m more of a soup and sauces kind of girl). To be honest woks kind of scare me. But I overcame my fear of lid-less cookware and since we had to use a Wok for all of the 5 dishes, I think I may have actually learned how to mitigate a smoking, burning stove top.

Hint: Vegetable oil is your friend. Keep that Wok well oiled!

Master Chef Kristine

So what you’re really asking is, if peanut butter and ketchup don’t make an appearance in Pad Thai, what makes it orange?  Let me share the secret – Tamarind Sauce!

Here is Yui’s recipe (it’s also in her cookbook and on her website). If you happen to be in Chiang Mai, stop by and learn how to make the real thing.  Yui is awesome and the class was a blast.

Pad Thai - I made this!

Yui’s Pad Thai from A Lot of Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai

3 tbsp cooking oil

1/4 Tofu (cut into itty bitty pieces)

1 tbsp Shallot – chopped

1 tbsp Garlic- chopped

50 g Minced Pork (Yes! Mince it! The pork should be in tiny pieces)

1 tbsp Fish sauce

1 tbsp Light soy sauce (Hint: light does not mean less salty it means light in color)**

2 tbsp Tamarind paste

1 1/2 tbsp Palm sugar (Palm sugar is nutty and less sweet.  This may be the place where we go wrong in the US)

200 g Fresh narrow rice noodles -or- 150 g  Dried rice noodles

4-6 tbsp water or chicken stock

100 g Bean sprouts

1/2 cup Chinese chive (cut diagonally into bite sized pieces)

2 tbsp Ground Roasted peanuts

Optional and delicious

1 tbsp dried shrimp

1 tbsp sweet turnip

Directions:

If using  dried noodles, place them in water and let them soak until they’re almost bite-able. They will soften more during cooking.

Fry tofu in 2 tbsp of hot oil over medium heat.

Cooking school hint: Add the oil, tofu at the same time and then turn on the heat.

When the tofu starts of change color add garlic and shallots

When your kitchen begins to smell of delicious garlic and shallots, add pork and turnip. Cook for about one minute.

Cooking school hint: Make some room in the wok.  Push all the cooked ingredients to the top of your wok and make room for the noodles.

Add the noodles and then immediately add water. Cook until noodles are soft.

Cooking school hint: Email me if you want noodles that aren’t sticky.  This is Yui’s huge secret and I don’t want to put it on the ‘net!

When the noodles are soft, mix all the noodle with the other ingredients in the wok.

Add fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind puree and palm sugar.  Cook for about one minute.

Add bean sprouts and cook until soft-ish, then add the Chinese chive.

When the Chinese chive turns bright green, move all the ingredients over to the side of the wok.

Add 1 tbsp cooking oil and cook the egg.  When the egg is nearly cooked (but still a little runny), mix in the noodles once again.

Turn off the heat and add roasted peanuts.

Garnish with a lime, cabbage and bean sprints

To Serve

At this point your job as a chef is done, it’s all up to the people eating your food to customize their Pad Thai.  Every meal in Thailand is served with the following accompaniments: chili flakes, sugar, salt, pepper, chili sauce and two varieties of fish sauce.

The Pad Thai that you just whipped up is probably less spicy, less sugary, less salty, less whatever than you expected. But it should be.  Let your guests add their preferred amount of heat or sweet.  That’s how it’s done!

Thanks Yui!

A lot of Thai and an Urban Hiker

** If you’re in the States, you may want to try Aloha light soy sauce or Pearl River Bridge light soy sauce.  Or if you really want to discuss light and dark soy sauces, join the intense conversation over at Chowhound! There is something for everyone on the internets.